It’s easy to see what’s wrong with the world. Your favorite news outlet serves it to you every day on a platter. Humans have a clear tendency to seek out what is negative, frightening, unethical, immoral. Most of us are trained through education and training to be “critical thinkers.” In fact, it’s a manager’s job to look for problems, to find where things are going off course so they can be corrected before problems arise, to scan the environment for perturbations that can be dodged or turned to our advantage. This tendency can lead to problems, however, if it isn’t balanced with a conscious attempt to find what is right and encourage it.
Constantly finding what’s wrong can become a mental habit, which hurts us because it creates a false sense of reality. We begin to believe that things are worse than they really are. We can become sour, judgmental curmudgeons. Worse yet, it hurts other people because nothing quashes others’ zeal more than to be only corrected, never praised. Even at work – especially at work. We talk about wanting to motivate and engage our workforce, but our management systems often neglect this basic human proclivity. We love to be praised! We thrive when we are thanked for a job well done and recognized for our contributions. And if you need a more impersonal reason for embracing lavish positive reinforcement, consider this piece of research: teams with a greater positive to negative reinforcement ratio far outperform teams with a lower ratio. In fact, the highest-performing teams had a nearly 6:1 ratio of positive comments to negative, while the low-performing teams had more negative to positive comments. Critical feedback is necessary, of course, but not as necessary as we think it is – and in the absence of generous dollops of praise, it can be demotivating and demeaning.
So in the spirit of the season, practice looking around you and finding what is right. Go one step further by cultivating gratitude and expressing thanks for the good you see. Today, be thankful you have a job. Be thankful you have THIS job. Even if you are in a dead-end position, work for a miserable boss, or found yourself in a field that isn’t fitting – be grateful for the growth that you will gain through experiencing your undesirable circumstances. Notice that your secretary never forgets to schedule you pad time between meetings (and thank her). Recognize that Joan always gets the job done and then some with minimal oversight from you (and tell her so). Be grateful that while Joe isn’t hitting his goals this quarter, his wife is going to be okay after that cancer scare (have a meaningful conversation with him). Be thankful that Josephine is so focused on growing into the next role you have planned, even if she dropped the ball on that one project (and frame your feedback accordingly).
Our brains are wired to lean toward the negative, but they absolutely shine when we consciously make them aware of the positive. Many managers and leaders are unconsciously concerned that by piling on the praise, people will neglect to address their shortcomings. But I assure you that if you make a conscious effort to see and reward what is right in others, they will strive all the harder where they need to. So try it – today, make a list of what you are grateful for and see how it makes you feel. Tell each person you encounter one thing that you appreciate about them and see how they respond. You might even want to try it again tomorrow.
“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” –William James
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” –Voltaire
“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness” –Dalai Lama